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Written by Shirley Marina
Firoozeh is both author and narrator of the book and tells each anecdote about her family from the perspective of whatever age she was when each incident happened. She first moved to America at the age of seven and hugely enjoyed the experience, making friends and finding assimilating into her new country relatively simple once she had mastered the English language. A bookish girl, Firoozeh has no aptitude for sports or physical activity as her difficulty in learning to swim shows; she is also mystified by her own decision to attend an outdoorsy summer camp where the only activity she enjoyed was arts and crafts. Firoozeh, like the rest of her family, is obsessed with food, good, bad or indifferent, and enjoys eating her way through the selection of flavors at Baskin Robbins. She is aware that her figure is suffering but not sufficiently concerned by this to alter her diet.
As she gets older, Firoozeh notices the different perception of Iranians before and after the Iranian revolution; welcomed with open arms before and viewed with suspicion after. As she is fair skinned and speaks English with no accent, Firoozeh decides to change her name to Julie to circumvent having to explain that she is Iranian but not dangerous, and she remains Julie throughout college and into her adult years.
A secular Muslim, Firoozeh is not a person who discriminates by religion and consequently is puzzled by her French mother-in-law's negative reaction to her and the fact she is married to her son, especially since Firoozeh's husband is a secular Catholic. Raised in a very multi-cultural environment, Firoozeh is raising her sons in the same way but leans far more towards her adopted American heritage than her childhood Persian one.
Throughout the book Firoozeh shows herself to be a witty and observant teller of stories and also has a liking for the ridiculous, finding humor in even the things about her family that annoy her.
Kazem is Firoozeh's father. As a young man he attended college in Texas and as a result was determined to being his family to America for a better life. He wholeheartedly embraces the culture and falls in love with the touristy and the flashy, travelling to Disneyland as often as possible with as large of a group of people as possible, and taking his family on vacation to Las Vegas where he is absolutely convinced he will win his fortune; when he does not he develops a complex series of identifiers for those people at the gaming table with him who are clearly bringing him bad luck. He also loves game shows, and is a contestant on Bowling For Dollars. A bowling prodigy in his own mind, he barely hits one pin whilst on the show and gives up bowling all together. Kazeem is often convinced that he is very good at something, such as teaching anyone and everyone to swim, and blaming Firoozeh's personal lack of buoyancy for her being the only person he never managed to teach.
A talented engineer, Kazeem is a hard worker who is convinced he will make his fortune one day; although never financially rich he considers himself wealthy because of his family and the life they enjoy together in California. He is a man who lives for family and he is close with his siblings who all live close by each other and who still care about the others'opinions just as much as they did as young children.
Nazireh is Firoozeh's mother. Like many women of her generation growing up in Iran, she received a brief and rudimentary education as in her era the only job a woman had was to find a husband. Before marrying she had aspired to be a midwife , supportive by her progressive father who was fully prepared for her to obtain her midwifery qualifications from a man known to the family but when he passed away suddenly so did Nazireh's aspirations.
Her American experience never seemed to result on her getting to grips with the English language which she eventually learned but spoke with such a thick accent that people could not understand her much better than if she had still been speaking in Farsi. She learned English by watching game shows on television which also added to her knowledge of random pieces of useless information and the ability to price everyday items seen on "Supermarket Sweep".
Nematollah is a long-staying house guest and dearly loved uncle. With several marriages behind him his search for his next wife is hampered by his rampant indulgence in fast food,and his determination to lose weight by any means necessary (except for dieting) involves buying a selection of weight loss contraptions seen on the shopping channel. Nematollah is single-minded and cares nothing for the opinions of others, characteristics that enable him to wear a full-body onesie designed for weight loss in public. Although eccentric and perpetually eating Nematollah is a favorite uncle who is missed as soon as he leaves.
Segideh is Kazeem's older sister and has an unbreakable bond with him, so much so that if she is angry with him he is distraught even as a grown man. She is a great cook and hostess and also has a green thumb, presiding over the most beautiful fragrant flower garden that still has the ability to take Firoozeh back in her mind to her childhood in Iran.
Francois is Firoozeh's husband who was a fellow student at Berkley and is originally from France. He was in love with Firoozeh very quickly after meeting her and made enormous efforts to impress her parents, even eating every single thing at a Persoan dinner that traditionally over-caters for every guest. A relatively secular Catholic he is not deterred by the fact she is not also a Catholic and ultimately decides to cut off toes with his mother when she is less accepting. Unlike Firoozeh, whose extended family is tightly-knit, most of Francoise's aunts, uncles and cousins are all at various stages of not talking to each other which is why he is so enthusiastic about joining Firoozeh's family.
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